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What is an ’emerging leader’ anyway?

There’s a woman I know, Anna Guenther, who is a knockout tech entrepreneur and big thinker. I love spending time with Anna as she invariably stretches the conversation in the room with her divergent thinking and general sassy-ness. Amongst other things started a crowdfunding platform when she was 27, a whole movement to challenge how conferences are done and I reckon is generally way ahead of the game on the way the world needs to be.

Anna is 34, which is how she found herself on one of our Emerging Leaders programme with other awesome people over 20-years-younger-than me. In the first session, one of the critical distinctions she challenged me on is why we referred to the group as Emerging Leaders.  “Aren’t we just leaders?”  she asked “Does this not suggest that we have more to learn than perhaps older age groups and how true is this?”.  Good call! In fact, so on point that we have reworked the course itself and now present it as a programme called The Contemporary Leader.

Last week, I noticed once more that she was listed in one of those “emerging tech entrepreneurs” list which seems to infer that there are a whole host of other ones older that she is not quite as good as, casting her as perhaps still a little uncooked.  Oh, I thought, the journalist fell into that same hole I was in.

Why does this happen i.e why do people assume that people in their 30s are not there yet? The answer is because that’s how power structures work – there is an age pyramid and younger cohorts have to wait till they have the maturity and wisdom that apparently comes with ageing.  

But of course, looking at the state of the world under these rules of leadership, it’s time to review that assumption.  In fact, it is a key reason we continue not only working with managers and leaders in their late 20s and 30s but why they always enrich our work, paying it forward with their viewpoints and experiences which makes our work more relevant for all.

We can all learn from each other which is why we are deeply invested and hopefully developing an expertise in small “group process” but also why we are committed to our work with this age group and soon, even younger.  Professional development budgets are usually lower in this group (we have had to design and price to suit) and yet it is critical to activate our talent in these productive years right now.

After all let’s remember Jesus died at around 33 years of age, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at 25, Martin Luther King Jr had a dream when he was 34 before dying at 39 and don’t get me started on Joan of Arc’s achievements as a teenager.

You could argue “it was different back then”. But, just look at the significance of Lorde who was 16 when she became a global phenomena and even Greta Thunberg who, as Time magazine would suggest by naming her their 2019 Person of the Year, has done more to rais awareness on political climate change inaction than even Al Gore.

Now more than ever do we need leadership ripe for the contemporary times we live in.  So if you know of talent in their late 20’s or early to mid 30s please send them our way. It will be a privilege to help unleash their talent.

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